Give it a 'tri’: Inaugural event a hit

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Athletes ran into the water for the swimming portion of the inaugural Head For The Hills Patoka Lake Triathlon on Saturday. The event — which featured a 500-yard swim followed by a 12.8-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run — drew 143 participants. The triathlong raised more than $8,000 to help support Patoka Lake’s raptor program, which includes caring for an Eastern screech owl and a red-tailed hawk. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Staff Writer

PATOKA RESERVOIR — The crowd began to trickle in just before 7 a.m., gathering at a check-in tent near the beach.

Each person was given a yellow swim cap and assigned a number, scrawled in marker across the bicep and calf muscles.

As the start time drew closer, the legion of athletes, 143 in all, made their way to the water.

Some smiled and slapped each other on the back. Others limbered up in solitude, struggling to control their nerves as they tried to put on a game face.

At 8:30 a.m., a race official yelled out, “Ready, set, go,” sending the first heat crashing into the lake. And with that, the inaugural Head For The Hills Patoka Lake Triathlon began.

For Dana Reckelhoff, it was the culmination of almost four years of planning and organizing. Reckelhoff works at the lake as an interpretive naturalist, leading hikes and giving kayak tours for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

The triathlon, she said, was a way for the lake to drum up money for its raptor program, which takes in owls, hawks and eagles that are unable to survive in the wild because of a birth defect or injury.

Saturday’s race raised more than $8,000 to pay for the birds’ food and veterinarian bills.

The event, organized by DNR and Planet Adventure Race Management, was a sprint triathlon, meaning it was shorter than Olympic or Ironman competitions. A 500-yard swim was punctuated by a 12.8-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run.

The competitors were a motley crew of first-timers and seasoned vets, coming from as far as Alabama and ranging from teenagers to retirees.

The youngest was Collin Sallee, a 14-year-old from Petersburg. At first, organizers turned him away, telling him he had to be at least 15 to compete.

But he begged and pleaded, and after getting parental consent, an exception was made.
Collin is on the swimming and cross country teams at Pike Central High School, and he loves biking.

“So I thought, ”˜Why not put them all together?’” he said.

He held his own with men more than twice his age, finishing in an hour and 16 minutes, the 11th-fastest time overall.

Among the oldest in the race was Mac Deshazier, a 70-year-old retired construction worker who has competed in seven triathlons and three marathons. Deshazier, who lives in Auburn, Ala., came to compete with his brother-in-law, Grant Hays, who lives in Orleans.

Back home, Deshazier belongs to a triathlon club.

“Of course, I’m the oldest guy there,” he said, “but it’s neat hanging out with the younger people. It makes me younger.”

Six months ago, Megan Jochem gave birth to her son, Trevor. A couple months later, she began training for Saturday’s marathon.

Jochem, a 27-year-old analyst at an Evansville utility company, said competing in a triathlon was on her bucket list. After the race, she held her son as she mingled with others who had just finished the event.

Trevor was her training buddy.

“He went on my jogs with me,” she said.

Dustin Betz, 24, was the first to cross the finish line. He graduated in the spring from Indiana State University, where he was on an athletic scholarship as a distance runner.

Betz, who grew up in Schnellville and starred in track and cross country at Northeast Dubois High School, began cross-training a few weeks ago, mixing in swimming and biking with his daily jogs. Saturday’s race was his first triathlon.

“I always wanted to do one,” he said.

Tara Eckman of Jasper had the fastest time of any woman, finishing 19th overall. After competing in a dozen or so half-marathons, Eckman, a 39-year-old freelance marketing consultant, decided she needed a new challenge.

“I had no expectations,” she said. “Like I said, I just got into this. I think I’m catching the bug, though, so I’m sure I’ll do more of them.”

Jill Vance, a 32-year-old interpretive naturalist at Monroe Lake near Bloomington, is primarily a runner. Triathlons are “just something I’m experimenting with,” she said.

Her first was in June at the Southern Indiana Triathlon along the Ohio River.

“And then I realized that triathlons can be kind of expensive if you buy all the gear,” she said. “Now I have all these clothes and stuff, so I better do another one to get my money’s worth.”
Jon Fleck, a 43-year-old Jasper police officer, enjoys the camaraderie of a triathlon. He has competed in three races and has built friendships at each.

“You don’t have to be a super athlete to come out and do this,” Fleck said. “You can decide to do this for exercise, and you can walk it if you have to. Or you can be as competitive as you want and go out and try to win.”

Contact Tony Raap at

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